Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: "Flipped"

"Flipped" layers on the nostalgia, with a dollop of ambition. The final soufflé falls flat, but I admired it for aiming higher than movies of this ilk usually do.

This heartwarming 1960s coming-of-age film from director Rob Reiner seems like a self-conscious sequel to "Stand by Me," about a foursome boys undertaking a quest to find a dead body. This time it's about a single boy, and with an even more daunting challenge: Girls.

More specifically, one very special girl.

Juli Baker is the quintessential girl next door: Smart, sweet and button-cute. As played by Madeline Carroll, she's got a lot of gumption and substance for a seventh-grader, and doesn't have much patience for the chatter of gossip or status-seeking. Juli is slightly socially outcast, but doesn't seem to mind, or even notice.

Across the street, Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) would seem to have everything going for him. Blond and good-looking, he's popular with the girls and liked by the other guys. His parents are affluent, at least compared to the Bakers, who rent their home and don't do much to improve its ramshackle appearance.

Bryce spends most of his young life disliking Juli, who glommed onto him when they were 7 years old, and continues to cause him much embarrassment with her constant mooning over him.

Over time, though, Bryce comes to see her true worth, not just as a potential romantic partner but as a person. Meanwhile, her opinion of him withers just as his ardor finally starts to bloom.

Narratively, "Flipped" is interesting because it's essentially a series of vignettes played out from each of their perspectives. First we see how things went down from Bryce's point of view, with him narrating the action, and then we rewind and see how the same scene looked from her end.

So, for example, her habit of climbing to the top of a huge sycamore tree to scout out the progress of the school bus looks like an exercise in weirdness to Bryce, but is a joyful daily release for Juli. When a work crew comes to cut down her beloved tree, she's as upset by Bryce's refusal to help her as the actual loss of her favorite perch.

Reiner wrote the script with Andrew Scheinman based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen. They tell their story simply, with little embellishment, or flair.

The adults in the kids' lives are allowed a little more complexity than usual. Juli's folks (Aidan Quinn and Penelope Ann Miller) fight over their lack of money and ostracism by the neighborhood, but love each other and their children fiercely.

Bryce's father (Anthony Edwards) is a judgmental boor, though his mother (Rebecca De Mornay) has a sweet streak beneath her brittle housewife demeanor. His grandfather Chet (John Mahoney) clearly thinks Bryce should give Juli more of a chance, and manipulates events to make it happen.

"A girl like that doesn't live next door to everyone," advises Chet, who also calls her "iridescent." If the movie were set in modern times, the neighborhood would be keeping a watchful eye on Chet.

I liked the places "Flipped" tries to take us, but the movie revs up without really getting out of neutral. Juli and Bryce repeatedly trade places as the admirer and the grudgingly admired, but we know they'll end up at the same place eventually.

This is the movie version of comfort food from your grandmother: Familiar, wholesome and rather bland.

2 stars out of four


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